Chapter 39: A Memories Worth of Trouble

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There was a sad smile on Custodia's lips as she stepped around the table, tired eyes firmly set on him. A wisp of gray hair tumbled past her cheek before she crooned it back into place. She was just like Dux had remembered her, only twenty years older now. Slowly he leaned down, reaching for his knife.

"Think you can kill a ghost?" She laughed, her words teasing. The frown on Dux's face hardened even further. He stood back up.

"A lot of weird fecking things have happened to the Vangen lately, Ira." Dux growled. "We killed a wolfman. Fended off a Jotan. I wouldn't be surprised in the least bit if I could kill a ghost right now."

Custodia stopped at the sound of her real name, a small imp of remembrance welling in her eyes before they were razor sharp once more. "Color me surprised then. You and your Vangen have done well getting past us so far."

"Us?"

"The Ministry," Custodia narrowed her gaze at him. "Don't play dumb."

"Maybe I should be the surprised one," Dux took a step towards her, holding his hands out, palms up. "I never knew you went Ministry. Last I heard, you were Captain of the Caligati, and quite satisfied if I'm not mistaken."

"I was," Custodia shot back. "Until I started putting more citizens into the stocks then criminals. Until I started realizing that the Empress I served was a bat shit insane tyrant!"

"So you thought joining Tyrannus' rebellion would solve things?"

"Oh, go feck yourself Dag," Custodia jabbed a finger at him. "Don't think you have any moral high ground to stand on."

"I don't," Dux slammed a fist down onto the table, scattering the little army pieces. "I never did. The sad truth is that I know exactly where I stand in all this. Do you though?" Custodia looked down, watching as one ivory carving collided into a set of black stones.

"I joined the rebellion for the greater good," Custodia said. "For the Empire."

"Is that what Tyrannus told you when he asked you to join his little Ministry of traitors?" Dux asked.

"Tyrannus has good intentions, Dag." Custodia pleaded to him. "He can bring the Emperor back."

"Tyrannus is a snake!" Dux shot back. "Whatever he told you is a lie! The Emperor is dead!"

"You don't know that!"

"I was there," Dux's voice echoed in the large room. "I watched the Empress kill him myself! She pulled his fecking heart out!"

Custodia took a cautious step towards him, her eyes soft, wrinkling gently at the edges. "Please Dag. Listen to me for once in your life you stubborn ass. Tyrannus isn't lying," She clutched at her chest, hands pressed where her heart was. "The Emperor is still alive and Tyrannus has the means to bring him back. We can finally end this. All of this," And she waved a hand over the carving of Byzantia. "No more rebellions. No more war. No more unneeded bloodshed. Contanis can be an Empire once more. United. The usurper can finally be dethroned."

Dux looked away, his gaze staring at nothing. Ira was right, gods damn her. Everything had gone to shit since the Empress had taken the Onyx Throne. Macedonibus. Austerland. Orienta. For twenty years he'd been putting down rebellions against imperial loyalists and copper crowned warmongers. With no end in sight. And for what? Sleepless nights and haunted dreams? Feck all that.

Custodia took another step towards him. "It's not too late. There's still time for you and your Vangen to fix all this. Send a messenger to Tyrannus. Call off the duel."

"You want me to surrender?" Dux asked, still not looking at her.

"I want you to live you big dumb bastard," Custodia said, her voice finally cracking. A tear fell from her cheek, disappearing into nothing. "You can't defeat Aeturnus! No one can! You've seen it yourself. Anyone you send out to fight him is going to end up a smear in the grass."

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